ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
With a new coach and having lost seven senior starters from last year’s 7-4 team, the 2004 Hillsboro Trojan football squad will have a new look when it takes the field Friday in its season opener at Lyons.
But it won’t be all that new.
Len Coryea, an assistant coach at HHS for the past 18 years, will be prowling the sidelines as the new boss. He succeeds Dustin McEwen, who resigned in spring after an eight-season run.
Drawing upon his coaching experiences at HHS, Coryea said his team will be a blend of McEwen’s more wide-open approach and a reliable ground attack mastered by Coryea’s first Trojan mentor, Don Penner.
“I’m trying to use a little of Penner’s system and blend it with a little of (McEwen’s),” Coryea said. “I want to make the transition less taxing on the kids.”
Coryea feels he has the personnel to be a threat on the ground or in the air.
Key to either attack is the quarterback position, where Coryea has depth in talent but not in varsity experience.
The likely starter is Derek Hamm, who played almost all of last season at that position. At 6 feet 5 inches and 200 pounds, the senior is a formidable presence in the backfield with an elevated view of the field.
Last season, his first as a varsity starter, Hamm completed just over 41 percent of his passes (65-157) for 880 yards and nine touchdowns. He also threw 14 interceptions.
Coryea said consistency will be a key to Hamm’s effectiveness as a passer, but his experience behind center gives him the starting nod over junior Josh Boese (6-3, 160), who has been looking good in practice.
“Josh came through as a JV player (last season),” Coryea said. “He didn’t start, but as soon as he came in, we scored. From then on, Josh ran the football well.”
Boese played a limited role on varsity last year, throwing only two passes all season.
Adding depth is junior Kyle Kroeker (5-11, 125), who missed almost all of last season because of a knee injury. Kroeker may be the most athletic of the three candidates, but has no experience at the varsity level. His biggest contribution may come on the other side of the ball, Coryea said.
Whoever is at the helm at quarterback will be handing or pitching the ball to a rotating core of running backs.
At the tailback or fullback position, Coryea sees junior Tim Funk (6-1, 175) and a pair of sophomores, Lucas Hamm (6-3, 200) and Michael Suderman (5-10, 180).
Suderman and Funk combined for nearly 300 rushing yards last season in limited roles, while Hamm did not register a carry.
Funk and Hamm will be the primary ball carriers this season, Coryea said, and Suderman will join the rotation when he recovers from a minor hip injury suffered in a late-summer car accident.
In the slot-back position, Coryea sees Boese as a leading candidate if he’s not playing quarterback. Senior Jayce Penner (5-10, 135) has been coming on strong in practice and brings a bit more speed to the role.
“He ran a 4.5 (seconds over 40 yards) in deep grass,” Coryea said. “That’s fast.”
Also challenging for time at the slot position are a pair of juniors, Chad Hughbanks (6-1, 190) and Adam Scheele (6-4, 170).
When the Trojans want to pass, Coryea said any of his slot backs also can play wide receiver. But the primary target for Hillsboro will be senior Daniel Deckert. The 6-3, 200-pounder was a unanimous all-league selection at that position last season, when he caught 26 passes for 364 yards-averaging 14 yards per catch-and five touchdowns.
“With Dan’s size and speed and good hands, he’s a good player,” Coryea said. “We’ve got to get the ball to him a few times (each game). I’m sure people know that.”
Neither the run nor the pass will be effective without the contributions of a strong interior line.
Coryea said the leading candidate to anchor the line at center is Peter Fast (6-4, 180), a junior with negligible varsity experience.
“His snaps have been pretty clean,” Coryea said.
The sophomores battling for time at center are Darren Enns (6-3, 235) and Tyler Kaufman (6-0, 180).
Coryea said the Trojans will be strong at guard with the return of junior Wade Weibert (6-5, 240), who was an honorable-mention all-league pick as a sophomore, and senior Jeremy Klose (5-9, 200), who started last season.
“Those two are going to be good,” said Coryea, who coaches linemen during practices.
Complementing them at tackle are two players of significant size: senior Jordan Allen, a 5-11, 250-pound returning starter, and Kurtis Shaw, a 6-3, 280-pound junior.
“Once we get explosion out of those two kids on a consistent basis, they are going to be good,” Coryea said. “We need to see it on every play at this level.”
For the first time in a while, the Trojans will be sporting a tight end on a fairly consistent basis.
“That’s the spot we just didn’t have on our team the past few years,” Coryea said. The leading candidates to fill that position are a pair of juniors, Ben Schaeffer (6-6, 165) and Justin Moore (5-11, 180).
When the Trojans have to punt, Coryea’s leading candidates to kick the ball are Deckert, Lucas Hamm and junior Matt Brown (6-2, 150). Weibert or sophomore Alex Nuss (6-4, 210), will step in to long-snap the ball at center.
After a Trojan score, Coryea will look either to Deckert, Derek Hamm, Lucas Hamm or sophomore Jesse Boucher (5-10, 130) to tee it up.
“That’s been a pleasant surprise so far,” Coryea said about those kickers. “They’re each getting the ball inside the 20 (yard line) with good height.”
The Trojan defense still has some question marks, Coryea said, but he feels the lineup will come together by the season opener.
The defensive backfield will be anchored at safety by Deckert, who was a first-team all-league selection there a year ago. The other safety spot likely will go either to senior Tyler Goldsby (6-1, 145) or Kroeker.
“Goldsby is looking good there-at least in drills,” Coryea said. “He’s coming out and showing his athletic ability and speed.
“Then you go to Kroeker, who’s a real smart kid. He reads well. He doesn’t have the gift of speed, but he has the gift of reading.”
At the corners, Coryea sees the competition for playing time being between a speedy foursome of Goldsby, Penner, Brown and Suderman.
To balance a relatively inexperienced defensive backfield, Coryea returns all three starters at linebacker: Lucas Hamm, who started as a freshman, Derek Hamm and Funk.
“Then you have Jeremy Klose, who can step in and beat any one of them out if they’re not careful,” Coryea said.
The Trojans should be formidable up front, with most starters returning.
Anchoring the interior will be Weibert, a first-team all-league pick at tackle last season. The other tackle spot will be determined between Allen, Shaw or Klose.
The first two have size, but Coryea likes Klose’s toughness.
At defensive end, the Trojans return two starters in Schaeffer and senior Ryan Kaiser (6-4, 160).
“They played pretty aggressively and did a pretty nice job as a sophomore and junior (last season),” Coryea said.
Coryea sees the expanded Mid Central Activities Association as a “pretty tough” football league this season. Heading the list of title contenders the Trojans will face is Class 4A Wichita Collegiate, who returns 17 starters from last season’s 8-3 team.
“When you have 17 seniors, you know you’re going to have a good year at this level,” Coryea said.
Also among the powers he sees Hesston, Smoky Valley and Lyons, the Trojans’ opening opponent.
“Lyons is supposed to have the best team they’ve had in the last 10 years,” Coryea said. “They’ve got a new coach. He used to be the middle school coach, so the kids must like him.”
New to the Trojan schedule this fall will be Chapman, a Class 4A school that comes to town the following Friday, Sept. 10.
“The coach from Abilene said he felt Chapman would be one of the stronger teams in their league this year,” Coryea said.
The Trojans’ four-team district includes three other schools that made it past the first round of state playoffs in 2003: Hesston, Marion and Southeast of Saline.
In the midst of those challenges, Coryea feels his team can compete with all comers-and right from the start.
“I don’t want to start slow,” he said. “I want to come out and look sharp.”
And the rest of the season?
“I think we’ll be in the mix of it,” said the first-year coach. “I hope they take us lightly.”